Visit Prairie Dogs Just Outside Yellowstone in Montana

Prairie Dog

Nervous Prairie Dog

Westerners think they have prairie dogs all over. Or at least that’s what they tell you when you ask where you might see some.

But when you actually go out to look, these husky-sized ground squirrels aren’t so easy to find. So, if you’re an easterner headed to Montana, check out the Greycliff Prairie Dog Town a couple hours outside Yellowstone National Park.

When I called the state to ask what the place was, no one was really sure. After I visited, I’m still not really clear. But, basically it’s 98 acres of prairie dog town. The Nature Conservancy was behind starting this state park right off the I-90 highway. And I mean, right off. If you’re looking for a quick break, you couldn’t do better (except there are absolutely no facilities and, at least the day we went, an overwhelminge wind). A woman we spoke with at the Beartooth Nature Center said it was one of her favorite places to go–especially with her dog–and it was unbelievable how many prairie dogs there were.

I have no idea how many mounds interconnected into towns there were. Too many to count. And each sprouted a whole family. Or at least it did if we didn’t get too close. I was surprised to see how timid the prairie dogs were of people. If you have a park set up to see one species, people tend to break the rules and feed that species. That sure didn’t seem to be the case here. They almost seemed like somebody had been harassing them.  The prairie dogs sprung out of their mounds and screeched their alarms when we got out of our car. It always seemed to look like the distant prairie dog mound was the most interesting; as we got close to any, they’d disappear. So we got back in the car, sat still and watched from there. They calmed down and let us have a closer look.

Greycliff Prairie Dog Town

Greycliff Prairie Dog Town

Prairie dogs used to practically cover Montana, the state’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department says, but now it’s down to little patches in the southwest. Many more live up in the northeast. In fact, there’s a lot of “varmint” hunting there. The little guys were driven off the range by cattle ranchers who feared they tore up grazing land or tripped horses in their holes. Neither turned out to be true.

So the park, near Livingston, is one of the few places within a day trip of Yellowstone you can bank on seeing them. There’s really nothing else for people to do there–just sit back and watch their hot-headed screeching between leisurely eating clover. The prairie dog is supposed to attract some interesting predators and squatters–fox, burrowing owls, hawks, coyote, black-footed ferrets–but I didn’t see any.  I did get to see them act naturally with each other–looking out for trouble, screeching, running back home, moms scolding little ones for not getting back fast enough.

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